The director of ‘Airplane!’ and ‘The Naked Gun’ returns
to parody ‘Signs,’ ‘The Ring’ and more with ‘Scary
by Mike Russell
It’s 1998. David Zucker – writer-director
of such legendary comedies as “Airplane!” and “The
Naked Gun” – tells the Internet’s Onion
AV Club: “The whole idea of spoof, to me, is just
so done and gone.”
It’s 2003. Zucker is putting the finishing touches
on his latest directorial effort: the decidedly spoofy “Scary
Confronted with his dismissal five years
ago of the very type of comedy that made him famous, Zucker
does the decent
thing: He cackles. “Oh, my God! I remember that!” he
says. “Never, never listen to me, you know? I think
that [interview was] before ‘Scary Movie 1’ came
out; I just thought spoof was so dead. I think the Wayans
single-handedly revived the whole thing.”
In all fairness, until “Scary 3” came along,
the 55-year-old Zucker really had ditched the joke-a-second
parody format – a format he pioneered with fellow
Kentucky Fried Theatre founders Jim Abrahams and brother
Jerry Zucker. Together, Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker (or ZAZ)
created classics and cult classics like “Airplane!” “Top
Secret!” “The Naked Gun” “Kentucky
Fried Movie!” and the short-lived TV series “Police
Squad!” The trio stopped directing their movies as
a threesome after 1986’s “Ruthless People”;
Jerry went on to helm “Ghost” and “First
Knight” while Jim followed the identity-switch comedy “Big
Business” by milking the parody format a bit more
with the “Hot Shots!” movies and “Jane
Austen’s Mafia!” David, subsequent to his work
on the lucrative “Naked Gun” trilogy, began
a move toward more character-oriented projects like “BASEketball” and “My
Boss’s Daughter” (a bona fide romantic comedy
starring Ashton Kutcher and Tara Reid).
So what brought David Zucker back to spoofery – to
directing a sequel to a series that was itself broadly
inspired by ZAZ’s pioneering style? He blames the
head of Dimension Films. “Bob Weinstein came to me
and said, ‘Do you want to do “Scary Movie 3”?’” Zucker
recalls. “And I said, ‘Well, not if it’s
another one of these slasher things.’ Although I
thought ‘Scary Movie 1’ was pretty funny, I’m
not a fan of slasher movies. To do good satire, you have
to have some affection for the genre – as we did
for the Clint Eastwood police-film genre and the airplane
“But then Weinstein said, ‘“Signs” and “The
Ring.”’ And I think those are pretty ripe for
satire. A videotape that kills you? That’s perfect.”
In Focus talked with Zucker about “Scary 3” (which,
by the way, marks the triumphal return of Leslie Nielsen
as a deadpan mayhem catalyst), “My Boss’s Daughter,” the
classic ZAZ comedies, Davy Crockett, and much more.
TO ‘SCARY MOVIE 3’
Will the MacGuffin
Movie 3” be a videotape, just like in “The
Yeah. There’s a videotape at the center,
plus crop circles, plus “Eight Mile.” We’re
spoofing at least five or six major movies.
Will there be
any weird genre juxtapositions, like you had in “Top Secret!”?
Yeah. Some scenes combine elements of two movies. There
are scenes that combine “Signs” and “The
Ring” and then “The Matrix Reloaded.”
Halfway through shooting, we took a two-week
hiatus just to see “The Matrix Reloaded” and re-write the
movie. We’d already shot some scenes using dialogue
from the “Reloaded” trailer — that’s
why we cast Eddie Griffin as “Orpheus” and
Queen Latifah as Orpheus’ nagging wife.
The plot is woven together from all these
elements, with Anna Faris playing the same “Cindy Campbell” role
she played in the first two movies — only now she’s
blonde. That’s Anna’s natural color. It makes
[the third movie] kind of a separation.
Is it kind of strange to be taking over
a movie series that was aping your pioneering comedy style?
I know — it is the strangest thing. I just didn’t
think about it much.
Any chance you’ll get that Marlon Brando cameo that
was long-rumored for “Scary Movie 2”?
Brando was on the set [of “Scary Movie 2”] — they
shot for a couple of days, and then he couldn’t finish
it because he fell ill. That’s when they got James
Woods. In my opinion, [the scene in “Scary 2” with
Woods and Andy Richter playing exorcists] was the funniest
scene of that movie. But I think “Scary 2” had
kind of a problem being rushed into production — I
don’t think they really had enough time to devise
I take it you’ve had the time you need on “Scary
We had more time [than “Scary Movie 2”]: We
wrote this script in three weeks [laughs] — and then
we continually wrote it as we went. I had to kind of maintain
this love story between Anna Faris and Simon Rex all through
the movie while weaving these various movies together.
We’ll have to see in the previews how much it holds
together — and, you know, what we have to re-shoot.
I think re-shooting is taken for granted these days.
interviews where you talk about the importance of really
structuring and planning these sorts of comedies.
Have you found it frustrating not being able to work in
quite the way you enjoy?
Well, usually we take a year to write the script. This
was three weeks to a first draft — but the studio
So we wrote the second draft — which
was another three weeks — and then we’ve really
been writing continuously, because what the studio has
done is continually challenge us to make the scenes better — saying, “This
isn’t funny yet; keep trying.” I say “the
studio,” but it was really Bob Weinstein. It’s
amazing when you have a studio head who’s a partner.
And you’re already committed to do “Scary
Right. Weinstein wants to go ahead and do “4.” If “3” does
some business, then we’ll be doing “4.”
So you had a
good time on “3,” despite the
Despite the schedule. We went up to Vancouver, and I was
able to bring my family up, and we had a good time making
the movie. Why not? I would work with Bob Weinstein again
in a minute.
HATING THE THOUGHT POLICE
were relatively tame when you were doing “Airplane!” — you
know, you might have a boob shot here or there —
Well, actually, as far as the tame-osity of these things,
it’s gotten stricter, if anything.
Yeah. You can’t show boobs any more. You can use
one F-word, but — ugh! — this thought police!
Ask Mike Myers what he has to go through on the “Austin
Powers” movies. They have become so horrible, and
you have Clinton and Lieberman to thank for this bullshit.
It was so much easier on “The Naked Gun”: The
rules were pretty much hard and fast — it was language
and even nudity we got away with. We always had a shower
scene in the “Naked Gun”s, and we had boobs
in “Airplane!” and we had Leslie Nielsen hanging
off a statue’s penis in one of those “Naked
Gun”s. Now you can’t get away with anything.
‘MY BOSS’ DAUGHTER’ AND
“My Boss’ Daughter” is the first movie you’ve made with
hot, young stars; you’re working for the first time in your career
with tabloid lust objects.
Working with Tara Reid and Ashton Kutcher is a new thing for me, because
the average age of my casts for the other movies was deceased.
You made a habit of re-inventing older actors
as comedy stars.
Right! Think of what we did with these aging actors — and still making
those movies for a youth audience. Working with young people is a much different
experience. It’s a lot easier to promote, obviously.
he plays “goofy,” do you think Mr. Kutcher
is underrated somewhat as an actor?
Well, I’ve heard now that Ashton wants to do some serious things. He’s
really talented; I have no doubt that he could do anything he wanted — but
I think his audience may prefer him as … not so much “goofy”….
I mean, this is a romantic comedy.
Chris Rock talks
about how actors always feel kind of guilty about being
comedians — they
need to go do dramas, or else they’re somehow not “real” actors.
That’s right, yeah. Even Woody Allen was about being at the grownup’s
Rock then proceeded
to say that comedy is so much harder than dramatic acting — he
thinks the priorities are all turned around.
I would say so. I’ve never directed a drama, but it seems like it would
be completely different pressure — or no pressure. [laughs]
Drama is so much in the script and turning
the camera on really good actors. But in comedy, there’s so much detail work with timing, and the audience
knows instantly whether you’ve succeeded or failed — because you
either get the laugh or you don’t. There’s no cover-up
in a theater.
I mean, on TV, you have a laugh track, and
people are sitting alone
in rooms; they don’t know if what they’re seeing is actually funny or it’s
all an illusion.
“Police Squad” was
a pioneering TV series in that it jettisoned the laugh
Yeah. And the networks wanted us to put a laugh track in. It
would have ruined it. It would have been on the air for another
Now, you’ve produced dramas — “A Walk in the Clouds” and
most notably “Phone Booth.” As a comedy director,
how do you judge good drama?
Well, I’m just like everyone else — if it affects me. You have to
connect with an audience; in drama, it’s usually on a
more emotional level.
In comedy, you do need some kind of emotional
factor — even if it’s
lip service to a “boy meets girl / boy gets girl” and some kind of
happy ending. You have to tell a story, even in a comedy. I fought on “Scary
Movie 3” to keep scenes in that would keep that story alive — especially
between the boy and the girl. And I got what I wanted.
You’ve been working almost simultaneously on “My Boss’ Daughter” and “Scary
Yeah. One’s opening in August, and one in October — so
within six weeks of each other.
it like having to shift mental gears between a parody
and a romantic comedy?
“Scary 3” was just much more joke-intensive; “My Boss’ Daughter” was
That’s one of the problems we had to solve with “Boss’ Daughter”:
In the original script, there was a scene in there that made the ending make
sense — and that scene didn’t work. We had to re-shoot it — I
had to write an entirely new scene to connect it — and it’s a funny
scene, but it’s not as funny as anything in “Scary 3,” as
far as huge belly laughs. But I managed to put in a slapstick
scene with Terrence
Stamp in this re-shoot: Terrence is balancing in a tree
trying to reach for his pet owl.
to imagine Terrence Stamp doing slapstick.
He’s great. Terrence is really wonderful — another one of the older
generation of actors. And I guess he’s already written
three autobiographies. I should go back and read them now
that I know him.
GENIUS OF ‘TOP SECRET’
I’ve been a fan of “Top Secret!” since
I was a kid.
You know, so many people talk about “Top Secret!” On “Scary
3,” we have one scene involving all these rap artists — like Master
P, Raekwon, Reza, Method Man, Ja Rule — and they’re all big “Top
On the recently
released DVD for “Top Secret!” you spend a lot of
time talking about the ways the film didn’t work. You are aware of the
movie’s hard-core cult following, right?
One of the things
I think the movie has going for it is its completely
insane mixing of genres — one second it’s an Elvis film, the next it’s “Where
For a long time, I and a friend of mine — who’s not part of our movie
group — we had gotten to be really big fans of this obscure genre of movies
that we call “Nazi movies.” Actually, they were movies made about
American spying during World War II from, like, 1938 to ’45.
Yeah — half entertainment and half propaganda. And more often than not,
in the end credits it says, “Buy War Bonds!”
We loved these movies, whether they starred
Cagney or Gary Cooper. They were all black-and-white, and
they all involved
enemy lines — usually
in France, sometimes in Germany. And any time we would get a tape of one of these,
we would watch it — it was kind of like a little
And there were certain things that always
ran through them — there was
the French Resistance, which was always the same, and the German sentries; I
always joked that you could always sneak up behind a German sentry and kill him — if
German sentries could hear, they would have won the war,
Yeah — there’s that one bit in “Top Secret!” where
the heroes are fighting loudly, and the Nazi guard turns
and looks at it and then
just turns away.
Right. They couldn’t hear. [laughs] So I loved that genre
and then the old Elvis movies. We just decided to combine them.
"Top Secret!" also contains your most sublimely absurd, truly surprising
images — a train platform rolling away from a stationary train, a man shattering
after falling from a height, a gigantic underwater fistfight set in a Western
bar, that incredibly technically complicated scene with Peter Cushing that was
filmed completely in reverse. It’s almost Buñuel-esque.
There was a hint of that in “Airplane!”: There was one scene in “Airplane!” where
Robert Stack walks through a mirror. And I always wanted to do these visual puns,
I guess, or visual tricks — to develop stuff that you think about when
you’re smoking something. Although “Top Secret!” was not written
while high at all — people think it was, maybe….
Well, the visual gags are too complex to
have been written while high.
Yeah, they’re pretty complex. So there was one scene in “Airplane!” — and
then we decided we wanted to explore those visual things in “Top
Now, unfortunately, the greatness of those
visual gags — you pay a price
for it. Some of what we were talking about in the DVD commentary, I think, is
that when you do that, you undercut the believability, the foundation, of your
story. I mean, in filmmaking, you have to tell a story — and
I think every time we did one of those [surreal visual
jokes], the involvement of the audience
in the story was undermined.
So you think
the reason the movie failed at the box office — although it’s
a cult hit on home video — is because the audience
was so shocked by the imagery that it kept getting taken
Uh, yes. There are a number of reasons why it didn’t do well at the box
office. And in fact a lot of people don’t even realize
it flopped at the box office.
First of all, it was that combination of
genres. People see Leslie Nielsen with a gun and a badge,
and they go, “Okay, I get it — this is gonna be
a detective movie.” They see a twisted plane, they go, “Okay, this
is going to be an airplane movie.” Now, when they see a cow with boots
[laughs], they don’t know what that is. The audience wasn’t familiar
with World War II spy movies or with Elvis movies: That was not something where
somebody said, “Well, finally! Somebody got old Elvis
movies and those World War II spy movies!”
most personal film.
That’s right: It’s the most personal film. And I accept full responsibility,
because it was my idea. And that was a shock. And I think the studio didn’t
know how to promote it.
The other thing is that I think that some
of these gags — like when Nick
Rivers’ manager comes to rescue him in the prison, and then he pulls out
that gigantic dildo — I think the audience at that point goes, “Okay — I
don’t think we need to be involved in this at all.” [laughs]
I mean, if the movie came on TV and I was
just watching, I would probably be stuck there watching — it’s pretty involving once you’re there;
you want to see the next gag. And they are the best gags that we’ve
Well, they’re the most surprising, too. They’re
Yeah. But see, it’s a strange thing about movies: They’re
really won or lost by their structure and by the last five
or 10 minutes.
Do you know who Alex Karras was? He played
for the Detroit Lions back in the ’60s,
and he wrote a book called Even Big Guys Cry, his autobiography. And he told
this story of how, when they would play the Green Bay Packers, he remembered
just beating them all up and down the field — just scoring and beating
the crap out of the Packers — and then, after the fourth quarter, when
they’d look up at the scoreboard, they’d see
that they lost.
And I think this is the only analogy I can
think of for “Top Secret!” — because
it’s a movie where the characters weren’t accurately defined, or
the story structure wasn’t there so that whatever problem Val Kilmer had
in the first act was solved in the third act. You weren’t
emotionally involved with those characters, because they
were rather cardboard.
It’s really when the audience walks back up that aisle that they really
decide whether that movie works — whether it’s
going to be a hit or not.
AIRPLANE!’: LLOYD BRIDGES GETS THE JOKE
Now, “Airplane!” was derived heavily from the 1957 drama “Zero
Have you ever seen that? If you watch that, it gives
away everything [in “Airplane!”].
It’s almost scene-for-scene in certain parts. I’ve spoken at college
classes and shown scenes from “Zero Hour” and then the same scene
do you think it was necessary to purchase the “Zero Hour” rights
before you made “Airplane!”?
I think so, because we followed the plot pretty closely.
I don’t think
you can take plot — you can take characters and occasional dialogue, but
I don’t know if it’s allowable to take plot. And for “Airplane!” it
was the entire — it was the fish-for-dinner thing; we lifted that plot
exactly. So we bought an option [on “Zero Hour”]
for about $30,000. And it happened to be a Paramount
film, and we ended up at Paramount.
that, in "Airplane," Robert Stack and Leslie Nielsen totally
got the joke as far as deadpanning goes, but that Lloyd Bridges needed, as you
put it, a little more "directional babysitting." How
did you pull that off?
[Bridges] wanted to change a lot of his dialogue — and we didn’t
want to change any of the dialogue. I can’t remember what the changes even
were that he wanted, but maybe he wanted to make sense out of it. So finally
we had to say, “Lloyd, we can change up to a point — but if not,
we’d just better maybe say this isn’t going
He said, “Okay, I’ll do this dialogue.” And he was in the first
week of shooting, and then [Robert] Stack came onto the set. And then when Stack
heard him complain about one speech or two speeches, he took Lloyd aside and
said, “Lloyd, you know, you have watermelons crashing in the background
and spears hitting the wall. Just keep talkin’ — they’re not
listening to us.” And he got it.
he certainly seems to have gotten the joke by “Hot
Oh, yeah. After “Airplane!” came out, he got it totally. I thought
he was just wonderful in “Hot Shots!”
THE TROUBLE WITH TV (AND THE POWER OF BASEKETBALL)
Looking at your
IMDB listing, one finds an intriguing producer credit: "Santa
Claus Conquers the Martians," co-written by "Tick" creator
Ben Edlund. What's the status on that?
Well, it’s in turnaround. We haven’t been able to get a decent script.
But it’s one of those great titles like “Dude, Where’s My Car?” Sometimes
movies can just go on the title. We just need to find the
right path to it.
And there’s obviously a lot of cult love both for the original “Santa
Claus Conquers the Martians” and Ben Edlund himself. That guy’s
I love “The Tick.” I’m a big fan. They had a [live-action]
TV show for a while, didn’t they? I know the cartoon
show; my wife was a fan of that when I first met her.
produced the live-action version of “The Tick,” actually.
I interviewed him shortly after they cancelled it — after airing only a
few episodes — and he was very, very blunt about
what he thought about that.
The network just kept re-scheduling it,
and he just got kicked around.
Oh, yeah, it’s ridiculous. Things are so much out
of your power in TV.
You’ve said in interviews that “BASEketball” and “Police
Squad!” were both failures as TV ideas, and that
your ideal storytelling form is movies.
Every time I do my forays into TV, it just reminds me
that I should be doing movies. [laughs]
was a real game that you guys played for 10 years — and
you’ve said that the moment in the movie where
Ernest Borgnine steps in and offers to fund the BASEketball
is when the movie ceases to be an autobiography.
Yeah. But everything else was really autobiographical.
And the weird thing is, the Farrellys were in that league — Pete and Bobby Farrelly were part of
the BASEketball league, as was Richard Lovett. who’s now the head of CAA.
And we would award the [league] trophy at the big CAA staff meeting every year.
I would make a speech, and I would give Michael Ovitz a whole introduction to
read — and I would include all these real insults
to Ovitz in the speech, and Ovitz would read them.
So you were the commissioner of BASEketball.
I was the commissioner, and Lovett still calls me “The Commish.” [laughs] “BASEketball”’s
another one of my unintended cult favorites.
OBSESSION AND DAVY CROCKETT
What’s the status of the “Davy Crockett” script you’ve
been developing for years?
I think it needs a re-write; I still think that it could
be a great movie. I think part of the problem is that
of Davy Crockett and his son, and it was a split focus — the son got the
big speech at the end of the movie, so that’s kind
of difficult to sell to a major star.
I’m anxious to see “The Alamo” — that’s
going to have Billy Bob Thornton as Crockett.
at your “Naked Gun” movies, there
are Davy Crockett photos all over the walls.
And there are in “My Boss’ Daughter” and “Scary
You’ve expressed your admiration in interviews for Crockett as this kind
of no-B.S. politician. People always think of him as just being “the Alamo
guy,” but he had a storied political career.
Oh, yeah. He was the Will Rogers of his day. He was a
humorist — he was
like Groucho Marx. He was zany and funny — a celebrity.
fascinating, because people think of Fess Parker, you
Or they think of him as “the Alamo guy.” I’ll be interested
to see, in this “Alamo” movie, how wide a scope the movie is going
to be — if they have Crockett in Congress at all.
Are you going to be disappointed if Davy
Crockett just shows up wearing buckskins and a coonskin
Well, you know, I won’t care, really; I think I’ll enjoy the movie
because I love that era of history. It may have an effect on my plans — whatever
I do with “Crockett.” This is something I’ve
been working on for 15 years.
This is your “Gangs
of New York.”
[laughs] I hope not, man! These vanity projects…. You know, [Davy Crockett’s]
a very hard story to tell, because people’s lives don’t fit neatly
into a three-act structure. His first wife died, and his second wife, it’s
questionable whether he even lived with her…. It’s tough. There’s
a struggle to, on one hand, make good drama, and on the other hand, to tell the
truth. And I don’t just want to do anything that’s
going to be some kind of fiction.
The way to do it may be to portray Crockett
telling it himself — because
that gives me deniability. Then it would be Crockett putting a little frosting
on his own story — which I’m sure he would
Where did you develop your obsession with
I think just from the Disney television show back in
the mid-’50s. I’ve
always been interested in him. Then, in L.A. in the mid-’80s, I re-connected
with some people who were also interested in him — and
they introduced me to the national organization that
was interested in the Alamo and Crockett
and Bowie and Travis and all of those characters; they
put out a little magazine called The
And then I host a big “Crockett Rifle
Frolic” on my ranch in Ojai;
every two years, we have one, where everybody dresses
period — artisans,
craftsmen, historians, teachers, gun nuts. I became best
friends with the guy who’s the editor of Guns & Ammo.
you’ve already got your “Davy Crockett” extras
Yeah. And then I had all my entertainment-business friends
over there — so
it made for an interesting combination.
BREAKING DOWN THE ZAZ STYLE
abused the word “Buñuel-esque”:
Does it weird you out when people offer these serious
analyses and deconstructions of the Kentucky
Fried style of comedy?
Well, I’m kind of used to it, because it started with our old film professor
at University of Wisconsin — who began analyzing
and trying to explain how we got to this style of comedy.
Well, you guys
did invent a new way to do comedy, late in the evolution
of film. That’s hard to do.
I guess so — although we had no awareness of that at the time. We were
just doing kind of what we had started to do onstage. And there was kind of a
forerunner in “Kentucky Fried Movie” — “Fistful of Yen,” which
was kind of a 20-minute mini-spoof of “Enter the
How much do you count, in your humor, MAD magazine
as an influence?
A lot. MAD was a huge influence. They literally did [a
column in MAD called] “Scenes
We’d Like to See” — which is all that “Airplane!” really
Do you think
cultural references give your spoof comedies a sort of "sell-by" date?
Or do you think they'll endure like the similarly paced
Marx Brothers movies?
I think they will endure — because in our movies,
there are very few topical things.
In fact, in the Marx Brothers, occasionally
you’ll see some topical things — like
there was one reference to the “twins in Canada” or
to triplets or quadruplets or something born in Canada.
Nobody today knows what that is; I just
read about it in a book.
the difference between parody and satire?
You know, I don’t know. [laughs]
Do you have
any idea which word applies best to the movies you’ve
I would say it’s “satire.” It’s
satirical. And then what is “spoof” — is “spoof” the
nickname of “satire” or “parody”?
When I think of “parody,” I think
of funny song lyrics.
Yeah. “Weird” Al
Yeah. He was in all the “Naked Gun” movies.
identified the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker comedy style as
having several key elements: (1) rapid-fire
in deadpan comedy
situations; (3) serious foregrounds juxtaposed against
comic backgrounds; (4) extremely rapid delivery of gags,
at the expense of plot;
and (5) a very
conscious blending of high and low humor. Is there anything
you’d add to
that "formula"? Or would you even say there
is a formula?
Nobody ever really outlined it to me like that. But those
certainly include all the elements.
writing out there about your films that breaks it down.
Oh, really? About the genre or about our stuff?
About your particular style. The breakdown
I just paraphrased is from Amazon.com; they actually had
some guy go and
write a mini-dissertation
on how your
I should read some of this. [laughs] That’s
all pretty accurate. Did you want to break it down?
Okay. The pacing: The pacing came from when
we were on stage, in the Kentucky Fried Theater — and we never wanted to be up there when people weren’t
laughing. Because that was the biggest shame in the world, to be hanging out
there with no laughs. That’s where we got the pace from: Everything had
to be a joke or a set-up to a joke — sort of complete
One of the things
your pioneered in your early ZAZ comedies was having
dramatic exposition that
moves the story along
foreground, with comic stuff
going on in the background. Did you get to do any of
that on “Scary Movie 3”?
When a joke is too obvious, I like to put it in the background.
I remember at the end of the first “Naked Gun,” we
had this big gag with O.J. falling down a bunch of steps
in Dodger Stadium in a wheelchair. And I felt that was
just such an obvious thing that I wanted to have Leslie
and Priscilla in the foreground.
I think one
of my favorites along those lines is in “Top Secret!” — when
you’ve got the couple having a lover’s talk in the foreground and
behind them people are divvying up a pizza with endless strings of cheese….
When you have to do exposition in a zany comedy, you
have to keep the laughs going.
The background stuff came from, in real
life, just observing people’s behavior
and things just happening in the background. Like when
we watch serious movies, I always look at the extras
in the background.
Or I look at the extras in a Marx
Brothers movie, and everybody there is dead.
You know, the Marx brother that we thought
was the funniest was Zeppo, because he was so uncomfortable — he was just there because he was the brother.
But in the books that I’ve read about the Marx
Brothers, he was the funniest offscreen. And I totally
done your share of acting yourself, in the Kentucky Fried
Yeah. And I was not the best one onstage. [laughs]
It could be
argued that you guys had a similar revelation in comedy
that George Lucas had his revelation
which is: “Take out all the
Yeah. It could be. Whatever. My influences were the Marx
Brothers and MAD magazine. And if you combine those,
I think that’s what “Kentucky Fried Movie” and “Airplane!” were,
and the parody/satire of the Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” movies
and James Bond, also.
Of all your
many imitators out there — of all the people who obviously
owe a debt to you stylistically — do you have a
You mean like the spoof?
Yeah. You know,
like “Austin Powers,” “Something About Mary”….
“Austin Powers,” though, isn’t really a spoof. I mean, in some
ways it’s a spoof — but Mike Myers does a whole different thing,
because he uses funny characters. All the characters are funny. It’s
not the same thing as using all straight actors.
LESLIE NIELSEN, COMEDIAN
I remember reading
how you had to fight to get those straight-faced actors
Yeah. [The studio] didn’t want Leslie Nielsen — or the studio didn’t
care, but the casting directors said, “Leslie Nielsen
is the guy you hire the night before.”
Yeah. It was horrible. And we knew that Leslie Nielsen
was just gold. You could tell he was great; we didn’t even know if he could do comedy — but
it didn’t really matter anyway, because it was
dramatic timing that he needed, not comic timing.
Yeah, his leaning
his head in the door over and over at the end of “Airplane!” and
saying the exact same thing again and again is one of the funniest things I’ve
Do you think a lot of people remember that? Because
I put a scene in “Scary
Movie 3” which is Leslie Nielsen opening the door and saying to the hero,
before he kisses the girl, “I just wanted to tell you: Good luck. We’re
all counting on you.” Whether it works or not, we’ll have to see
in the previews. I’m glad you mentioned it. Because if that’s
a big, iconic thing, it might work.
In the later "Naked Gun" movies,
Leslie Nielsen gravitated away from the deadpan approach
and began mugging
he did in the earlier films.
Was that a conscious choice, or just the way that it
I think it was not a conscious choice.... You know,
as he became more known as a comedian, he started to
I think I learned a lesson as the “Naked Gun”s went on that Leslie
was always better when he caused other people distress. Like, there was a scene
in “2-1/2” where he fell over a guy’s wheelchair and they were
twisting around on this floor — and I think if I had the choice to do that
one over again, I would have had somebody else fall over the wheelchair — but
he caused it.
I was careful that, in “Scary Movie 3,” Leslie causes the distress — he
doesn’t get beat up.
back to very deadpan mode.
Oh, yeah — totally deadpan.
I didn’t know Leslie Nielsen was in this movie. That’s
Leslie and Charlie Sheen. So you’ve got “Naked Gun” and “Hot
Shots!” And everything Leslie is in is great — he
is terrific. He has not lost a beat.
How old is he now?
Seventy-seven, I think.
There are second acts in American lives.
Yeah. In “Scary 3,” he plays the President.
In an East Room reception, he beats up a bunch of handicapped
A ZAZ REUNION?
Now you, your
brother Jerry, and Jim Abrahams decide to pursue solo
projects after the first "Naked Gun" movie.
Jerry and Jim both wrote a quarter of the first “Naked Gun,” and
that was pretty much the end of the involvement.
I mean, obviously,
Jerry had this yen to tell dramatic fantasy tales that
you didn’t [Jerry Zucker went on to helm “Ghost” and “First
Knight” — Ed.] ….
Is there ever
a chance in hell that we’ll see you
guys come together again?
I doubt it. I mean, never say never, but we’ve been apart now, I think,
for longer than we’ve been together. I think
we have different styles.
I can’t say it’ll never happen. Jim Abrahams actually kind of helped
out on “Scary 3” for a while. I wanted to get him as a writer, but
he couldn’t do it — he was unable to do it, and it wasn’t because
he didn’t want to, or any other reason: It just didn’t work out.
I’m hoping that, on the next movie, he will come on board — if we
do “Scary 4,” that Jim will be involved.